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Optics Matter. So Smile.

Smiling car driver
Taking Elizabeth’s Smile & Drive Challenge

Optics matter. 

As much as it hurts a no-pretense, country girl like me to admit it, they do. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, optics means how a thing looks to an outsider. The word is often applied in the worlds of politics and business. A politician playing golf as his home state is declared a disaster or a Starbucks barista holding a Dunkin’ mug, as examples, would create bad optics.

Image, if not everything, means a lot. It can make or break a cause. And I don’t just mean on Wall Street or in Washington.

I mean for you Christian, driving along in your automobile. 

Elizabeth’s “Smile & Drive Challenge”

My friend Elizabeth has got a thing for joy. And for smiling while she drives. I’ve seen it. We’ve passed in Burlington’s streets and parking lots and it’s striking. 

Elizabeth has a gorgeous smile to begin with, then add to it that she sports it while weaving her black, 12-person van around the one-ways in our town and she stands out.

Let me tell you how the challenge came about. Our ladies’ group was discussing what more than conquerors and “not somehow, but victoriously” mean and how sometimes it’s all we can do to crack a smile. 

Which is when Lizz looked at us with a twinkle in her eye and began:

So,  I’ve been trying to smile while I drive. Even when I stop for a red light or a train.  

Then she threw down the gauntlet:

I challenge you. Smile while you drive. 

I don’t know if that sounds easy to you. But I ca. assure you, it does not feel natural. Smiling while I drive feels odd. 

So why does Elizabeth do this? 

Optics Matter

Elizabeth cares about optics. That’s why. 

Or, to be precise, Elizabeth wants to attract unbelievers to Jesus. And there’s nothing like a radiant smile to attract people. 

As much as I’d like to believe that it’s virtuous to be authentic and let it all hang out so no one can charge me with hypocrisy, it’s not. If we want to influence others for Christ, we must dress up

Because, as Steven Cole has said, Our job as believers is to give good press to our good God, not by spinning or bending the truth, but by conveying by our demeanor and words how excellent He truly is.

Or again, reflecting on Psalm 67:1, John Piper asks, How can you say to the nations, “Be glad in God!” if you are not glad in God?

Optics and gladness and good press for a good God. That’s why I took Elizabeth’s challenge. 

Smile: Make God Look Good

I love Alexander MacLaren’s description of adorning the gospel, of making God look good. Even though he wrote it 150 years ago, it sounds like he was describing optics. 

[M]en do quite rightly and legitimately, judge of systems by their followers...It is just as fair, when a creed comes before our notice which assumes to influence men’s conduct, to say: ‘Well, I should like to see it working…”

So when we Christians stand up and say, ‘We have a faith which is able to deaden men’s minds to the world; which is able to make them unselfish; that is able to lift them up above cares and sorrows; which is able to take men and transform their whole nature, and put new desires and hopes and joys into them’; it is quite fair for the world to say:

‘Have you? Does it? Does it do so with you? Can you produce your lives as working models of Christianity? 

So, dear friends, this possibility does lie before all Christians, that they may by their lives conciliate prejudices, prepare people to listen… to the message of God’s love, win over men…and make them say: ‘Well, after all, there is something in that Christianity.

The Smile & Drive Challenge is a cheap way to improve optics. Smiling while wait for in the pick-up line after practice now this is a “working model of Christianity.” 

Smile: Make Yourself Feel Good

The goal of the Smile & Drive Challenge is to make God look good. People may see you smiling as you drive and put 2 and 2 together and think, “She’s a Christian and she’s smiling. Her faith must make her happy.” Smiling Christians are more likely to draw others to Christ than grumpy Christians. 

But God is so good that he made us with creature features to promote our own health. Smiling is one of those. Mother Teresa said, We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do. 

Intentional smiling can improve not only your mood but your body’s stress response. Think of smiling as free therapy. Apart from the stress release, smiling has been found to lower blood pressure and improve immune function. Truly, a joyful heart is good medicine (Prov. 17:22). 

Joy will bring out our smiles, but smiling can also bring out joy. Even if you’re not feeling the joy, do what joy to would do. It might just be enough to ignite the spark of joy so that you feel it too. (Read this for 10 more reasons to smile.)

Good Press Or Bad Press? 

But the biggest reason to smile is because our God is good. Psalm 100 is a call to make a joyful noise and give thanks and be glad and the last verse tells why. It’s a good one to memorize if your joy well is dry:

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

I’ve asked myself and I ask you: Does your life give God good press or bad press? If you’re doubting His goodness and grumbling about your trials, it’s not good. Why would onlookers be interested in your God?

But if those around you notice your joy and glad submission to God, they just might be drawn to the Lord who whose joy is your strength; who is so good that you smile while you drive. 

That can be hard.

Smiling Through Spilled Gazpacho

God wants to keep me honest so he has me write. You see, when I started writing this post earlier this week, life was peachy. Literally peachy. My friend Jen had just brought me a box of those juicy Georgia peaches and, my, were they sweet.

But two days later a few got bruised, a son got grumpy and a row with Jim ensued. The rats in the cellar all broke loose. To top it off, en route to dinner group, the precious peach gazpacho spilled. 

My smile was AWOL until two miles west of the gazpacho spill. That’s where the Spirit called to mind the words in this half-finished post. And you know: Today if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 

So quick as a ripe Georgia peach disappears, my frown turned upside down.

When Your Smile Is Worth Double

Peach  gazpacho cleans up in a jiffy, but some of you face troubles that won’t go away. But here’s the good news: your smile is worth more. 

Because your smile is a sacrifice of praise. Your praise is so precious because it comes from a faith tested by fire. Anyone can smile and sing God’s praise when he’s living like he wrote it, but lips that praise God’s name in the hard times command attention.

I recently read a story about unconverted John Wesley. A conversation with the the luggage handler at his college impressed Wesley deeply. Somehow Wesley had learned that the porter had only one coat and had not enough money for that day’s food. But the man overflowed with praise. Wesley said, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and no bed to lie upon! What else do you thank Him for?”

“I thank Him, answered the porter, “that He has given me my life and being, and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.” (A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze [Eerdmans], p. 100.)

That poor man gave his good God good press and God used it to bring John Wesley to saving faith. Steven Cole concludes, God is good, so we who belong to Him should give Him good press by being people of exuberant joy, glad submission, and thankful praise. 

In other words, optics matter. 

Will You Take the “Smile & Drive Challenge”

If you’re still on the fence about taking Elizabeth’s challenge, consider this: God’s reputation and honor are at stake.

“If we do not rejoice — if God is not our treasure and our delight and our satisfaction, John Piper says, then he his dishonored. His glory is belittled. His reputation is tarnished. Therefore, God commands our joy both for our good and for his glory.” Optics matter.

I know that smiling and joy are not the same. But I also know- I mean from experience know- that I cannot smile without feeling honest to goodness joy in the Lord.

So, if you happen to see me driving around town and I’m not smiling, please honk. 

And smile.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Where do the saints get their joy from? If we did not know some saints, we would say– “Oh, he, or she, has nothing to bear.” Lift the veil. The fact that the peace and the joy of God are there is proof that the burden is there too. The burden God places squeezes the grapes out and out comes the wine; most of us see the wine only..If you have the whine in you, kick it out ruthlessly. It is a positive crime to be weak in God’s strength.

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, “Inspired Invincibility

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

-Jesus to his disciples, in John 15:11

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“I Think it’s a Loop,” & 4 More Sage Summer Travel Tips

At the end of the Red Route, South Rim, Grand Canyon

“An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered;

an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”

G.K. Chesterton

Our nine-day. “Out West” adventure ended last week. Some of you have asked for highlights. There were many. Here are five.

1. Beware of “I think it’s a loop.”

Our hiking party on the descent, once we knew it was NOT a loop.

“Wow! This trail is pretty steep,” my niece exclaimed, a minute or two up the trail to Weeping Rock in Utah’s Zion National Park.

“I think it’s a loop,” I assured her as we rounded- or more accurately,  as we turned sharply to the left.  “The sign said the trail to Weeping Rock is only four-tenths of a mile. That’s nothing- a ten minute walk, maybe.” 

“Well, anyway, it’s a good thing we filled our bladders at the last stop,” one cousin added, between swigs from his Camelbak, “because this trail is making me thirsty.”

“Yup- out of one bladder right into the other,” another cousin quipped. 

We with any breath left chuckled. But our bladder banter betrayed us.

Because none of us was an actual-factual hiker.  I mean the kind who does this sort of switchback, steep drop off stuff.  A real hiker. Our knock-off Camelbaks had arrived mere days ago.

Not all those who wander are lost.

Still, here we all were- wandering up Zion National Park’s family-friendly, rated-easy trail to Weeping Rock.

“You sure this is the way to Weeping Rock?” my husband asked me, about ten minutes in.

“I don’t know if it is or is not,” Uncle John jumped in, “but I’m already crying.”

“I think it’s a loop,” I said again.

And we trudged on.

Someone mumbled something about a trail of tears. 

Then, where the trail was so narrow and the drop-off so sheer and my niece’s hand numb for how hard I was holding her- where we were hugging the rock- there came two hikers going down. 

“Hello!” I burst, “Can you tell us if we’re on the path to Weeping Rock?”

That bearded trekker grimaced first, then without a word, he grinned and turned. Our eyes tracked as he pointed down to a dark, little cave way off at the base of the cliff.  

That is Weeping Rock,” he said.

Tolkien was right, of course: Not all those who wander are lost. 

But this I know- those who slog along switchbacks seeking the easy, “family friendly,” route to Weeping Rock are. They are lost. 

We followed the bearded man down.

2. Listen to the rocks cry out.

The second highlight of the trip for me was listening to all those majestic rocks.  All the earth will shout his praise.

I heard the Grand Canyon sing praise- louder and louder as the day wore on and the sun colored those west faces magnificent.

And the Vermillion Cliffs chanted too, driving into southwestern Utah. By the time we reached Zion, I tell you,  the Patriarchs were tenors, belting out glory, Pavarotti. style.

“All the earth will worship You and sing praise to You. They will sing praise to Your name.” Selah Psalm 66:4

Bright Angel Trail, photo tweaks courtesy of David Haessig

I’ve written before about the glory of God in Creation, and how sunsets and canyons and mountains and rivers exist for Christ.

I can’t help but share this John Piper quote again:

Every honorable pleasure we have in the created world is designed by God to give us a faint taste of heaven and make us hunger for Christ. Every partial satisfaction in this life points to the perfect satisfaction in Jesus who made the world.

Creation talks– it sings and shouts- and we hear Creator God.

3. Road trip with friends (and bring your walkie-talkies).

For a full 24  hours after we got home my ears were ringing. I kept hearing “Roger” and “10-4” and “Breaker, breaker.”

I miss hearing the happy back and forth between the brothers-in-law, the “Hey’dja see those longhorn over there?” and “Woudnt’cha just like to see one of those boulders come rolling down?” and ” What song can you sing us, Big John?”

This trip we traveled with my in-laws and now I don’t ever want to road-trip alone. Joy shared is joy doubled.

Switching up the cousins each leg of the trip worked like a charm to ease any conflict and  breathe fresh fun into those 4,000 miles. 

And, trust me, it really helps when you’re eating leftovers out of the trunk for the fourth meal in a row in the parking lot of Wall Drug to have a unified front before a half dozen kids with their hearts set on Culver’s.

Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity…It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Psalm 133:1, 3

4. A joyful heart is good medicine.

Joy is the serious business of heaven, I’ve heard.

But on earth, it seems it comes to us indirectly- not when we aim at it head on. At least that’s how it was out West. 

At Weeping Rock. Looking out.
Zion’s Weeping Rock, Takes 1-10

Zion’s Weeping Rock, Take 11.

Laughter comes at the strangest times.

Like, when after 14 hours on the road, our hotel landed on Pancake Boulevard. For some reason, we laughed until we cried.

Or when Curious George-like, my nine-year old niece snagged what she thought was her dad’s lost hat at a bus stop at Hopi Point. She was on her cheery way running it to him, when the hat’s frantic owner came crying after,

Hey, little girl! That’s my hat!” 

Or when we made it to Mt. Rushmore at twilight and raced up the Avenue of Flags to catch a glimpse. We’d read the stone faces would light up pronto! at 9. So up we dashed- cameras in hand and poised at 8:59, ready for the lights to shine.

Grand Canyon shuttle bus. Hat’s on.

Mt. Rushmore, tweaks by David Haessig

And we waited and watched. The four faces grew grayer and grayer. We heard singing and a poetic reading and a full-out, complete with flag-lowering,  patriotic show.

And while we were lost in wonder- or wondering- the lights flashed on.

Our cameras were in pockets.  And we laughed.

Or when we finally reached Weeping Rock and I marched up to a real professional-looking, photographer-man and asked if he’d take our picture and after 10 minutes and lots of contrast here and back-fill there, that crazy silhouette shot was the best we got.

And we laughed and we laughed and we laughed. We rejoiced greatly, we sons and daughters of Zion! 

 5. Rocky Mountain highs lead to low sea level lows.

At the  high points of our trip, and we probably averaged about 7,000 feet about sea level, a couple of quotes would rumble around in my head. my head. They’re the lines bolded below, from “The Place of Exaltation,” by Oswald Chambers. 

Glenwood Springs, CO

We have all experienced times of exaltation on the mountain, when we have seen things from God’s perspective and have wanted to stay there. But God will never allow us to stay there. The true test of our spiritual life is in exhibiting the power to descend from the mountain…

We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life— those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.”

Monday morning came around and heaps of laundry and lost library books and, no joke, a flat tire too. After 9 days in the sun, for our first five days back on the plain it rained. Rain boots on the ground and bills to pay and a lawn to mow. We were made for the valley. 

The test of our spiritual life is not in going up the mountain or vacationing with gratitude and laughs. Those are easy.

The true test is in descending the mountain with grace.

Walk About Zion

Walking about Zion. tweaks by David Haessig

Glenwood Springs Pool

We walked about Zion. And hiked at Grand Canyon and stood in waist deep Oregon Trail wheel ruts. We bathed in Glenwood Spring’s giant hot pool and sat on a huge petrified rock called Old Faithful and looked straight into the granite faces of America’s greatest. We enjoyed every rock, every trail, every stop.

God gets glory when we enjoy his gifts, as his gifts.  I’ve written before about how we ought to look up the sunbeam and chase back to the source. How we ought to “enjoy everything in God and God in everything” and receive vacations like this as avenues to enjoy the never-shifting Giver of all good gifts

Our western adventure was prime-time for that. For putting this worldling in her place.

Old Faithful, at Petrified Forest, NM

The rocks restored my awe of the Creator. The rocks and rivers and cliffs and canyons shook me up. They reminded me that I- and the rocks and rivers and cliffs and canyons- all exist for God.

We need these gracious reminders.

Because, if you’re like me, you get into a groove- or a rut- and get too comfy in our bubbles. But then something shakes us and wakes us up to reality. He is God. We are dust.  He is a Rock eternal.  We are a disappearing mist. He gives living water. 

If we are Zion’s children, we are more than dust and mist. If we dwell in Zion, in Him, we are as unshakeable as God is.

Solid Joys and Lasting Treasure

Guernsey Ruts, Wyoming

This week I heard an old preacher quote the last verse of an old hymn called, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,”

Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show:

Solid joys and lasting treasure,
  None but Zion’s children know.

Solid joys and lasting treasure are for Zion’s children. They were, and they are, ours.

So walk about Zion, go around her. But beware when you’re scaling a cliff switchback-style and your guide says, “I think it’s a loop.”

Especially when you think you’re on the way to Weeping Rock.

Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, 
that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. 
He will guide us forever.

Psalm 48:12-14

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On Eggs, Dregs and Choosing What You Did Not Choose

Only eight words.

Eight words I grasp with my mind. Eight words I pray grace to live till I die.

These eight words: Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose.

The TL; DR on this post: expect delays, remember that comfort is overrated, and think twice when you pray for smooth.

Choose what you didn’t choose is really just another way to say what James said 2000 years ago: “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters when you meet trials of various kinds.Which starts with learning to welcome- not to resent- life’s interruptions.

A lesson it may take a lifetime to learn.

Interruptions Are Real LIfe

The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination! —C.S. Lewis

That quote exploded my big-plan, little-margin life when I first read it years ago. Sometimes I still chafe when my plans are interrupted and I have to wait.

But He’s changing me. I know that because when the red line that suddenly popped up on my Google map had me praying just now, not grumbling, while our van crawled along for miles. And when my day-off plans were quick shortchanged by a call from the school nurse, I could count that “trial” right.

Because waiting for the green line and tending a sick son are precisely the “real” life God is sending me.

Count It All Joy

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

We will be interrupted and we will be tried. Which is why James wrote when you meet trials, not if. And that means we need to commit before they hit to count our interruptions and trials as-you guessed it- joy.

So trials are inevitable and they often come on us suddenly, like interruptions.

Which explains why James used a word  that means “meet” or “fall into.” It’s the same  word used in the parable of the Good Samaritan when a man fell among robbers, and in Acts 27 when the ship Paul was on struck a reef. The word emphasizes the surprise nature of trials.

Trials can come on suddenly. But all trials- internal and external- are tests by God intended to make us strong and mature and complete.

Lacking nothing. 

Dregs

But you know what happens when we’re not tested?

There’s a striking illustration of that in Jeremiah 48.  “Moab has been at ease since his youth,” the prophet wrote. Moab was a neighboring people to Israel. They’d lived an easy life; undisturbed and at ease.

John MacArthur closed a sermon on James 1:2-4 with an explanation of that Jeremiah text.  It has to do with wine-making. With dregs. Verse 12 says, “Neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into exile. Therefore he retains his flavor and his aroma has not changed.” 

When wine is fermented initially it is a combination of what is sweet and what is bitter. The liquid was poured into a skin and left for a long time. Eventually, the bitter part would fall to the bottom and become what we call the dregs.

After a period of time what was on the surface was then poured into another skin and another passage of time would yield more dregs. After some time it would be poured into another skin and a few more dregs until finally it could be poured into a skin and there would be no dregs at all because all of that had been removed in that process.

What you had at the end was the pure wine.

Sweet, Pure Wine

We want to be pure wine.. We don’t want to retain a bitter flavor and musty aroma.

But without trials- trials counted joy- we’ll stay bitter and musty. Moab’s problem was that he was never poured from trial to trial to trial. Moab’s sinful, bitter dregs never went out.

That’s why maybe we don’t always pray for smooth and ease. Why, by grace, we don’t fall apart when trials and delays come our way.  Why we can sayIf God needs to pour me from vessel to vessel, and trial to trial to so the sinful dregs of my life can fall to the bottom and pure, sweet wine of righteousness remains, then bring on the trials.

And, somehow, to count them all joy. Which means we learn to choose what we didn’t choose.

Choose What You Didn’t Choose

Choose to see the interruptions as sent by God for our good. See the sickness that keeps us home and flat tires that slow us down, infertility that blocks a dream and relationships that break our hearts as for our good. That we might be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Christian joy is grounded in our union with Jesus, and that union, not our plans coming to pass is the fountain for our joy, which sounds and is supernatural. Murray M’Cheyne’s words, “It is always been my ambition to have no plans as regards myself.”

But that sure grates against our 21st century plan-oriented sensibility, doesn’t it?

Despite the autonomy and self-determination we have, much of life consists of things we didn’t choose. And as one friend just reflected- most of her life’s greatest joys were unplanned. Is that true for you?

Control is an illusion anyway, but we can choose joy.

Eggs

Because saint’s trials are purposeful. They come to test our faith. The boot box says waterproof, but we don’t know till we hike in the rain. We say we trust God, but we don’t know till trials come our way. Alistair Begg makes it plain, Faith is a muscle. Test it and it grows. Leave it alone and it atrophies. 

The pressure builds endurance. Kind of like boiling eggs. But if we pull the egg out before the pressure’s done, the good won’t come. If you don’t leave the egg in hot water long enough, it’ll be a useless mess.

Let perseverance finish its work, James 1:4 says. Get ‘er done, mama says. Finish the work. Don’t pull out of the pot before the pressure’s done.

South African pastor Andrew Murray shares four truths that helped him to joyfully endure trials:

  1. I am here (in this trial) by God’s appointment. It’s not haphazard.
  2. I am in his keeping. He will hold me fast.
  3. In appointing my trials and keeping me, I am in his training program.
  4. I am in his training program as long as he wants me there.

Choose what you didn’t choose. Count it all joy.  If we’re going to be spiritual adults we can’t be dodging his purposes.

Let the egg boil already.

Choose Joy

Alistair Begg says, trials responded to properly are always fruitful. That’s Begg’s code, I think, for Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose. 

We accept that life is change and until the day day we die there will choices made for us that we did not choose. And we can resent the choices we didn’t make for ourselves or we can choose joy.

This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t waste it. Choose what you didn’t choose. Choose joy. Because Someone who knows the beginning and the end sees it all and steers it all and loves you more than you can fully know, let those trials meet you.

They were traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love.

If You Knew Everything You Knew

Tim Keller said it this way, God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows. 

The fullness of the Christian life is available where you are now. You don’t need a dreamy husband or cuddly kids. You can be full and complete without a great church that sings the songs you like and work and ministry you crave. I can be full and complete without a bigger blog or a published book.

Which is not to say, don’t change your circumstances if you can (see 1 Corinthians 7:20-31). But it is to say, don’t buy the lie you can’t be full and complete until you do.  In Christ, you can (see Colossians 2:9-12).

Fullness and joy comes from being with Christ. In your presence is fullness of joy, David knew.

So choose His presence. Joy will come.

The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present but the Lord sees a great while from now. 

And how do I know but that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone.  

Jeremiah Burroughs

Props to Skye Jethani for the phrase: Joy comes from choosing what you didn’t choose. (Listen to the full interview with Skye, here.)
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Abounding, Like Bolt

It’s not that much for someone who is poor and in a low condition to have his heart kept low, but for someone to have his heart low when his condition is high is much more difficult.

Jeremiah Burroughs, Contentment, Prosperity, and God’s Glory

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:11-12 

Do you know how to abound? Did you watch the Olympics last night? Have you learned the secret to being content in plenty and fullness, not only in your need? Did you see Bolt bow the knee?

For all the mockery and misuse of #blessed, I think it’s a perfect expression of that noble, humble spirit. Blessed stands opposed to entitled. Blessed expresses gratitude. Blessed is against “I earned this.” Blessed testifies to God’s grace. #blessed.

Bolt included #blessed in his tweet after his three-peat in the 100m dash last night. I’m one of his peeps now. Here it is.

Thanks for all the support my peeps #blessed #TeamBolt #TeamJamaica #Rio2016

I know, I know, I know. There’s danger in lauding any earthly hero. Don’t put your trust in man. All men -even the fastest- are wildflowers and mist and grass. Every one will fade and fail. I know this.

But the Word also says, Blessed is the man who fears the LordAnd Paul urged that whatever good his peeps had seen and heard and learned from him- these put into practice

Usain’s not perfect. Google him and you might find a few foul words and spot him dancing with some risque Samba dancers at his Rio press conference last week. We all stumble in many ways.

But Usain St. Leo Bolt has got some big things right.

Humble Good Humor

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.  

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Humility, you ask, incredulous? Haven’t you seen Usain’s breast-thumping, #1 boasts, you askAre you out of your up-too-late-watching-beach-volleyball-sleep-deprived mind?

Yes. Humility. And, no. At least I don’t think so it’s a hazy, sleep depraved mind.

Because we know this. That, Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. And when any Olympic living-legend offers a prayer with a sign of the cross in front of a thousand cameras and then bows the knee within a minute of winning a race- I see humility.

Bolt is a century removed and a sea away from the Christian’s epic Olympic hero, Eric Liddell. I admit that Bolt’s lightening trajectory doesn’t look like it’ll lead to a mission field like Liddell’s. But then, one never knows.

Bolt does share more than fast feet with our Chariots of Fire hero. I was going to tie them together with that famous, God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure, quote. It fits them both. But it turns out that “quote” was written by Colin Welland as part of the Chariots of Fire script.

Liddell was known, Bolt is known, for their enthusiasm and good humor. And for this “Girl with the etched furrowed brow,” who takes herself far too seriously far too often, Bolt’s light-hearted, unpretentious exuberance is a breath of fresh air. (Yes, unpretentious. It means trying to impress others with greater talent than one actually possesses. Bolt is the world’s fastest man.)

Proud people tend to be too puffed-up with themselves to want to bless others with their levity and laughter. I dare you to watch Usain and not crack a smile. Eric Liddell had that same light heart. His friends and classmates recalled that,

No adulation, no fame, no flattery can ever affect this youth…He has got that great redeeming gift, the gift of humour. 

His infectious enthusiasm endeared him to the sporting public, and for the next four years he packed the terracing at every sports meeting he attended.

He had a characteristic, humorous resistance to bullying or posing masters, giving his answers stern and satirical emphasis ,’46 Sir’ and then following up with a disarming smile, whenever and wherever the atmosphere permitted it.

For all- or rather in all- Usain’s post-race antics (he hugged a huge stuffed animal on the track after the race last night), for all his smiles as he speeds on by, and his unpuffed-with-self poses that he freely gives “his peeps,” Usain Bolt displays a certain humility.

Honoring God

His pleasure is not in the strength of horse or his delight in the legs of a man, but the Lord delights in those who fear him and put their hope in his unfailing love. 

Psalm 147:10-11

God’s pleasure is (still) not in the (under 10 second for 100m ultra-fast) legs of a man. He delights in those who fear him.

A manifestation of fearing God is taking time to honor him. Usain doggedly honors God. Sure, it’s in his characteristically loose, Jamaican way. Critics might call Bolt’s God honoring ways, merely superstitious– signing the cross and sending prayers to heaven as the soles of his lightening-fast feet press hard on his starting blocks.

True. Only God knows our hearts.

But his #blessed tweets aren’t required by the Olympic Committee. In fact, they’re probably not preferred. They’d probably rather Bolt not be so visible about his faith in the Holy Trinity. Bolt’s going against the flow when he honors God this way.

If ever they did, “Christian” shout-outs do not earn brownie points in the wide world of sports anymore.  His tweets and signs and prayers may not be so bold as Eric Liddell refusing to race on a Sunday. But still. They look like signs of man who behind his big talk and bigger grins fears his God.

A prosperous state, wrote Jeremiah Burroughs, mightily endangers the grace of humility. He explains, that those who have learned to Paul’s secret show their noble, humble spirits when they are

[A]s careful to return proportionate respects to God as they are to receive any mercy from Him. Their nobility is further sown in this: they are thankful. A noble heart is a thankful heart that loves to acknowledge whenever it has received any mercy.

Did you see Bolt bow his knee and give thanks to God when his 100m race was done? After winning the 200m in the last Olympics, he tweeted: “I want to thank God for everything he has done for me. Nothing would be possible without him.” No one made him do that. A strong humble man knows who gives him strength.

A fast humble man knows -and fears- the One who gives him speed.

Sitting Loose

Sit loose to this world’s joy-the time is short. 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne 

Sit loose. That’s a motto for The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. It’s a shorter version of Paul’s Philippians 4 secret. Learn to be content, whatever situation you’re in. Because in Christ all things are yours, and you can do all things

Usain seems to take even his huge success lightly. Jason Gay in today’s Wall Street Journal wrote,

The most recognizable man at the Olympics is staying in the Olympic Village, for goodness’ sake, posing for selfies with mortals who will never make it out of a preliminary heat, pulling his own luggage, turning the same wobbly doorknobs like everybody else. He’s OK with that. He’s into it. 

And sitting loose means sharing the glory. As “the Cosmic Center” of these Olympic games, Bolt he knows that the really great go low. They’re able share others’ success and joy. Jason Gay describes it.

One of the finer moments Sunday night occurred when Bolt was doing post-race interviews near the track, and he noticed the South African runner Wayde van Niekirk, who earlier had shattered the world record for the 400 meters, running 43.03 seconds. Bolt turned to reporters, told them he’d be right back, and then leapt back up onto the track to embrace van Niekirk, clearly the new buzz of these Games. 

No one is better suited than Usain Bolt to make the case that winning isn’t everything, because even while he’s the world’s fastest man, he seems to know that all human glory fades away. No one can make this case better because no one can accuse Bolt of merely making and serving loser’s lemonade. 

I don’t know if Usain Bolt knows Jesus. I don’t know how closely he follows the Christ whose cross he traces before each race. But I know Bolt’s enjoy-life, fear-God, sit-loose ways are even more legendary than his 100m Olympic gold three-peat.

Usain Bolt lives Paul’s secret and teaches us how to abound. That’s the biggest lesson The World’s Fastest Man taught The Girl With The Furrowed Brow. That’s why Usain Bolt is a refreshing breath of rare Olympic air to a very amateur runner who tends to take herself and any modest achievement far too seriously far too often.

From all of us who cling to success and abundance too tight and proud and need to sit more loose and humble, Usain deserves praise.

Behold, what I have found to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 

Ecclesiastes 5:18